Sunday, August 16, 2009
Eating Out in Oslo: Norwegian Food (Ja!)
The suspense must be killing you. In my last installment I mainly provided details of where I didn’t eat in Oslo, so now I complete the picture by detailing where I was successful in mustering up some grub. If you read the previous installment, you are already ahead of the game. I delicately threw in a couple hints, with my salmon! salmon! salmon! served by blonds! blonds! blonds! Speaking of which, does anyone know whatever happened to my favorite blue-eyed blond actress, Lost in Space’s Marta Kristen? No, she’s not the one chomping on the giant frankfurter.
You may recall the Nordic blond, blue-eyed clone who set me off in the direction of
my first dinner in the Norwegian capital. Now I’ll tell you where: to Anne-Karin Sandtner’s Løvebakken restaurant, a modern, spacious establishment around the corner from the Parliament building. This was not quite haute cuisine, but I did partake of a more-than-serviceable introduction to the Norwegian kitchen, starting off with a chevre salad with various chopped vegetables and peppercorns. Of course, I can’t get chevre salad in France, as you know. Okay, that’s not quite true. I can get chevre salad in France, and lots of it. But warmed chevre with salad is in my mind one of life’s little pleasures, wherever it is served—along the Seine or along the Baltic, I don’t care, I’m going to order it. I wasn’t disappointed with Løvebakken’s version, which turned out to be a veritable meal in itself; in other words, three times the size of the same entrée in your typical Parisian establishment. I know what you’re thinking—he took salmon as the main dish. Well, I am a man of many surprises and, nei!, I instead opted for the trout with oranges, potato puree, zucchini slices, and green beans. It wouldn’t win any awards, but the dish was quite tasty and I would recommend it. For the beverage accompaniment, in lieu of ordering a bottle, which would have bankrupt me on my first night in Oslo, I went with glasses of S. African cabernet sauvignon. Løvebakken was big and surprisingly empty, although I think I was dining there at a very late hour for the Norwegians—8:30 p.m. I may have missed the crowd, but my waitress (the cloned one) was more than attentive and affable. Overall, a good start, clocking in at 528 NOK (59 euros) without dessert. By the way, when I asked the waitress/hostess the meaning of Løvebakken, she seemed perplexed. I was thinking maybe she would tell me it stood for ‘love bakery’ or something exotic like that, you know, like if I walk into the back, follow a specific corridor, I’d come upon something a bit more exotic than zucchini and green beans. Unfortunately, the waitress's response was a shrug, which in Norwegian must mean, 'huh'?
Following dinner that first night, I met up with some German acquaintances at the Posthallen bar and restaurant, a huge converted post office building, with front bar and tables, back room restaurant, large open-spaced terrace, and a massive bar in the back room, which also serves as concert/disco space (see images taken from Posthallen’s website). Things were rather quiet in Posthallen at the moment, but I imagine the place gets pretty down and dirty during those periods when Norwegians need to come out of the cold, which is probably anytime other than July and August. Anyway, I had already eaten, so I continued with glasses of wine. My German friends hadn’t already eaten and went with a Nordic specialty—open-faced sandwiches with heaps of fresh shrimps. I must admit, I was tempted. The sandwiches, predictably, seemed to hit the spot. If you are young, thirsty and/or hungry, want to come in from out of the lousy Oslo weather and maybe hear some live music and meet some friendly Scandinavians in the center of Oslo, head over to the Posthallen.
Next up was probably the highlight of my dining experience in Oslo, D/S Louise Restaurant & Bar, at the waterfront on the touristy restaurant stretch along Stranden. This maritime-themed establishment is embellished with nautical antiques and memorabilia from the transatlantic liner shipping era, festooned with ship horns, anchors, those kinds of things. I only noticed this because I had to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, I spent my visit at the outdoor terrace, thankfully devoid of transatlantic memorabilia, watching the tourists go by and envying the lunchtime drinkers on the waterfront boats converted into drinking establishments (and coincidentally, where I ended up spending late evening hours the following night). D/S Louise is one of the more famous restaurants in Oslo, noted primarily for its classical seafood items. My curiosity was piqued not by the standard fish and seafood plates, but by two special offers on the menu (‘meny’ in Norwegian) – one a three-tiered tasting plate, which seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed at the table next to mine, and described thusly on the meny:
‘An elegently presented selection of sumptuous nibbles which include:
Foie gras of duck, Skagen salad, seared scallops, mango chutney, pepper-smoked salmon, caviar, chilli-scampi, chorizo, cured meats, copa di Parma, Brie, marinated olives, pepper with cheese.’
Call me crazy for foregoing that dish, but with fond memories of an epic herring meal I once had in Denmark, tempted by the beetroot, and searching for a very Scandinavian experience, I opted instead for the special herring platter:
"Lightly salted herring fillets, served with beetroot, onion, sour-cream and cooked potatoes. A very Scandinavian experience!" Nothing very mysterious, it turned out to be exactly as described. Accompanied by an Argentinian red, I followed the meny’s recommendation that the herring dish should be followed by an akevitt, a potent schnapps-type amber drink made from potatoes and bearing the distinct taste of caraway. I asked the waitress for one of the best their bartender could recommend and diligently wrote down the name, which I have diligently misplaced. So if you have any suggestions and recognize the brand inside the glass (see photo), maybe I’ll recognize the name when I hear it. Not as potent as advertised, the meny was right—it was a perfect cap for a hearty lunch (317NOK or 36 euros).
For my final evening in Oslo, I chose a spot also near the waterfront, down the street and around the corner from Louise’s, which had been recommended by my Louise waitress. Bølgen & Moi is one of those Nordic-style bar/brasseries that tries very hard to be trendy. A rather modern, post-Zen-industrial motif, with multiple rooms—you rarely see such space in Paris establishments—and spiced up by light bulbs dangling from exposed multi-colored wires and an ultra-attractive waitstaff. As I later learned, the name is not supposed to be some witty wink to the French, but denotes the owners, renowned restaurateurs Toralf Bølgen and Trond Moi. That information and a cup of coffee will get you probably as far as the Kon Tiki museum, but not much further.
Dinner got off to a nice start with a basket of fresh bread accompanied by a dish of aoli. My table was next to a patio/terrace, and through the window I was watching two youthful couples lolling about on sofas, drinking their drinks, and sharing a steamer basketful of dim sum, 10 dumplings with dipping sauce for about 200 kroners. I thought about it, but then figured it probably looked a lot better than eating all 10 dumplings would ultimately prove, so instead I ordered the Trond mois fisk – a creamy seafood hotpot with fish and shellfish for 259NOK. I’m not sure why I didn’t take an entrée, which is very unlike me, but this probably had more to do with a late lunch than anything else. Finally, we get to the salmon – I haven’t told you about some more standard meals, especially at lunch, featuring that fish, and I won't. But the hotpot did consist largely of salmon, along with halibut in a light cream sauce that didn’t overpower, along with your standard shellfish – mussels, some shrimp, crowned by a sumptuous scallop, which you should be able to make out in the blurry photo. I couldn’t resist the “New York-style” cheesecake with strawberries dessert. I’m not so sure a New Yorker would agree with the characterization, and Oslo is a long way from the big Apple, but the dessert came close enough to the real thing to satisfy. All washed down with the standard glasses of red wine (‘07 vina la rosa Cabernet Sauvignon at 85NOK a glass). B&M apparently is a Norwegian chain, and the one on Tjuvholmen allé in Oslo looked to be a recent addition. It was nicely located near the water, but isolated enough to lose the madding crowds flocking to the harbor cafés and TGI Fridays. Total cost: 548NOK
I followed the dinner with an obligatory cafe at the Grand Hotel, as elegant a cafe as they come. Now Ibsen and I have more in common than just being famous authors.
To sum up: Dining in Oslo is interesting, expensive, quiet during August recessions, and pretty laid back. I enjoyed myself, but I only wonder how the experience would have differed had I succeeded in visiting some of those traditional places I mentioned in my previous blog installment. I went modern in Oslo, but the tried-and-true route looked tempting. Next time. Oopda!
Note: 1NOK = .11€
Stortingsgata 2 0158 Oslo
tel: +47 22 42 40 80
0152 Oslo, Norway
tel: +47 22 41 17 30
Tel: +47 22 83 00 60
BØLGEN & MOI TJUVHOLMEN
Tjuvholmen alle 5
tel: +47 22 44 10 20
Just a side note: When in Oslo, I recommend taking a short metro ride just outside the center city to the Munch museum, once a laid back museum where you could just walk in and walk out with Munch's famous 'The Scream' under your arm. Now it is a fortress, so don't try that. And please, don't pose in front of the aforementioned painting with your head in hands and mouth agape as if screaming. You will look like an idiot.